Wine Movie Reviews: from Sideways to SOMM

I’ve been marathoning wine movies over the last couple weeks and decided to write some capsule reviews of the better-known ones for this week’s Vue column. Here are the expanded versions:

Sideways

(I just wrote an in-depth post comparing the movie and book versions of Sideways, but here’s a summation of my thoughts.)

Forever my favourite wine movie, Sideways (2004) paradoxically contains the best ode to wine I’ve heard (delivered by the wonderful Virginia Madsen), as well as the line that became so overused in the wine industry that I cringe whenever someone, trying (and failing) to do their best Paul Giamatti impression, recites it. Yeah, yeah, you’re not drinking any fucking Merlot; I get the reference. Do you know how many times I heard this while working at deVine? Please, please – let’s move on.

Aside from telling the story of a booze-soaked, licentious bachelor’s weekend in Santa Barbara wine country, Sideways was really the first non-documentary to present wine in a starring role: it’s the framing device for all of the characters’ relationships, and a foil for their identities. It’s also a rare example of a movie that was much better than the book – seriously, don’t bother reading it. The screenwriters won an Academy Award for best adaptation for a very good reason.

 

Blood Into Wine

There were some seriously weird scenes in this film.
There are some seriously weird scenes in this film.

If you’re a fan of singer/songwriter Maynard James Keenan’s music projects then you’ll probably dig Blood Into Wine (2010). The movie isn’t anything particularly special; Maynard comes across as a pretty cold, alienating subject (part of his cultivated rock star mystique, I guess), though he does have a couple really poignant, honest moments. There’s also a fair bit of fangirling: interviewing fans waiting in line to get bottles signed by him, not because they love wine but because they love Maynard/Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer. And who the hell thought all those misplaced comedy sketches were a good idea? I could have so done without the extended, awkward, completely unfunny segments featuring Maynard on a faux talk show with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (I simply cannot stand their brand of “comedy.” It’s awful.) Bob Odenkirk’s cameo during the end credits is just bizarre. And Maynard on the toilet? Yeah, okay, I get it – he’s poking fun at the documentary style. Whatever.

Blood Into Wine really shines when it focuses on the struggles of the neophyte Arizona wine industry, of which Keenan is both pioneer and poster child. It’s admittedly very refreshing to see a celebrity who’s absolutely serious about winemaking and who didn’t just slap his name on a label. But the segments with Eric Glomski (Keenan’s winemaking mentor and true Arizona wine pioneer) stand out as some of the film’s best – now THAT’S the guy who should have gotten the most screen time.

 

SOMM

somm
Ian Cauble, MS and total obsessive-compulsive.

This engrossing documentary proves that tasting wine all day long is actually not the dream job you might think it is. SOMM (2013) follows four candidates preparing for the Master Sommelier exam, a grueling ordeal that pretty much saps all the fun out of drinking wine by quantifying each sip. (“This red wine has star bright clarity, medium-plus acidity, medium tannin…”) It’s a fascinating insider’s peek into the upper echelon of the wine world, and the moments leading up to the revelation of whether or not each candidate passed is just as teeth-gritting, seat-bouncingly suspenseful for the audience as it is for the candidates themselves.

Watching this film gave me absolute confirmation that I am completely happy staying at the Certified Sommelier level. (FYI, because I don’t think I mentioned it on this site, I got my certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. They are the only truly international certifying body and I also really liked that the vast majority of the preparation is all up to you – I didn’t need to sit through several boring intro courses by the time I decided to pursue sommelier certification, and of course those other certifying agencies don’t let you challenge their exams. *cough* cash grab *cough*)

 

Red Obsession

Peter Tsenge: he paid for all those bottles with dildo money.
Peter Tsenge: he paid for all those bottles with dildo money.

In 50 years, China will be the world’s biggest wine producer. It seems like an insane notion, but it will undoubtedly happen if this country continues its absolute – you guessed it – obsession with the grape. Ostensibly a documentary about Bordeaux’s place at the top of fine wine’s food chain, Red Obsession (2013) is really about the rise of China as a wine superpower, both as consumer and producer. It’s required watching for anyone in the industry, but pretty interesting to boot: wealthy Chinese wine collectors have all but cornered the Bordeaux wine market, and the guy with the world’s most expensive cellar (Peter Tsenge) is a sex toy mogul.

 

 

 

Bottle Shock

Hey man, we like totally make good wine in California! lol
Hey man, we, like, totally make good wine in California! lol

If you are into sappy romantic comedies and idealized, faux-nostalgic reminiscences about 1970s California, watch Bottle Shock (2008). If you are looking for a faithful retelling of a monumental event in winemaking history that had a profound effect on the global wine industry, watch Red Obsession.

Alan Rickman’s facial expressions are probably the best thing about this flick, which is little more than an insipid Hollywood rom-com stuffed with groan-inducing, sophomoric philosophizing. The famous Judgement of Paris tasting occurs in a place that looks hilariously Californian, not French (vineyards don’t all look the same, guys), while the momentousness of the outcome falls completely flat because by this point you’ve been made to care more about who’s banging who in the vineyards.

I wrote a review of this wayyyy back when the movie was first released and I was still working for deVine. As I recall, I got a free promo ticket to the show, which is good because I would have been exponentially crueler in my review had I paid for my own ticket. Reading over that review gives me a chuckle for both my unrefined writing style (I had just graduated and was still recovering from my stilted academic voice) and for the fact that my opinion on this flick has not changed one bit.

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